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Blair has been blinded by an imperialist illusion

Guardian | 01.06.2006 17:56 | Repression | World

Both Bush and Bliar dishonestly said they would leave when asked by the Iraqi Government, believing they could control the men they installed and bribed. Now that they've refused this direct request, another LIE is exposed.

Blair has been blinded by an imperialist illusion

Britain has been asked to leave Iraq by the leader it helped to install. Only arrogance or myopia can explain its refusal

Simon Jenkins
Wednesday May 31, 2006
The Guardian

What is British policy in Iraq? This week, as four more Britons die, it is more obscure than ever. Iraq is becoming a 21st-century Dardanelles, a lethal project sustained only because exit is too painful for politicians to contemplate.

Tony Blair has long stated that British troops are in that country to establish democratic institutions and guarantee security and prosperity. Since security and prosperity are as distant as ever, democracy is vitiated. Rising violence has rendered the policy incoherent. Blair and his colleagues must rely for public support on an increasingly false narrative of their purpose, as false as the reasons for the original invasion. They are prisoners of denial.

Civilian deaths in Iraq are running at 1,000 a month. Kidnappings take place daily, and ethnic cleansing is rife. Some 10,000 professionals have fled the country. The police are nowhere trusted. This is beyond any tolerable definition of security. Chaos was previously described by Downing Street as "isolated" and "not to detract" from the success of the occupation. Progress was allegedly being made away from the cameras. This is denied by all available statistics of power, water and petrol supplies. The defence secretary, Des Browne, was reduced last week to claiming that "things are better in the country areas" - long the last cry from the bunker of defeat.

British briefings on Iraq are a remorseless diminuendo. First the troops would leave once elections were held. Then they would stay until violence abated. Blair recently said, "The violence is why the troops are there." This explanation, as he must know from the history of Northern Ireland, hands the initiative to the enemy, allowing the terrorists to dictate the course of the occupation. In Basra, the militias can now imprison British troops in their barracks for as long as they choose, or as long as it suits their sponsors in Tehran.

There is no sense in which Britain is any longer in command in Iraq. It must even fight to recover its casualties. Basra has become a battleground between rival militias. Soldiers patrol intermittently and bravely show the flag (which is more than the Italians do), but they offer little more than target practice. This is not countering violence, nor does it constitute control. British troop deaths are devoid of any rationale.

The government's fallback position has been that, irrespective of peace, securing it can soon be handed over to local troops. Yet there is no evidence that, however many Iraqis take the coalition shilling, they can reliably be deployed against the ever more brazen militias and gangs. "Iraqisation" depends not on numbers or weapons but on morale. In the present climate there is no such morale, except in Kurdistan where militias have become the army. British policy accepts the de facto partition of the Kurds, yet not that of the Sunni and Shia regions. Why? There will be no stability in Iraq until this happens and yet the policy is to deny it.

A final fallback has been that British troops would leave when asked to do so by the Iraqi government. Most of the 110 coalition bases would be handed over to local brigades. A start would be made this summer with the British vacating Maysan and Muthanna provinces. The Americans would retreat initially into their dozen or more super-bases, and perhaps be offered long-term leases.

This exit strategy was galvanised last week when the new Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, said that he expected coalition troops to leave 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces by the end of the year. The only remaining American troops would be in lawless Sunni Anbar and in Baghdad, where Maliki needs the Americans to protect his green zone fortress and airport. His statement implied a total withdrawal from all Shia provinces, including the British from the south.

Maliki's statement should have been music to London's ears. Here was an elected leader eager to appear his own man, to show the militias, clerics, warlords and ubiquitous Iranian agents that he was master and not a coalition puppet. The coalition has every interest in bolstering such determination and expediting the withdrawal he requests. It is supported by the shrewd American ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.

So why did Blair rush to Baghdad last week and dismiss Maliki's request out of hand? His spokesman indicated that Iraq would not be remotely "ready" for such a British troop departure by the end of the year. Offered a window through which to escape, Blair slammed it shut. Told to prepare to leave by the very democratic leader he had helped install, he refused to listen.

The suspicion is that Washington and London will withdraw only at the moment of their choosing, when it can be orchestrated as a victory. With violence and anarchy on the rise, such a prospect is implausible - not just by the end of this year but in the foreseeable future. Knowing that things are not getting better, London now finds itself claiming that they are getting worse before they can get better. It no longer matters what Iraqis say.

The hidden premise of Blair's position is that British (and American) troops must by definition be a blessing to any nation they occupy. It is inconceivable that they could increase anarchy or that their departure might alleviate it. This arrogant assumption runs through every argument about Iraq at present. It is the last shred of imperialist illusion, held even by many who opposed the invasion. It is encapsulated in the brainless Tory proposition that in Iraq we must "finish what we started".

As long as British politics holds this view, the occupation will never end. It does not matter how many Iraqis (apparently a majority) consider it a magnet to violence. Each of some 50 daily attacks on foreign troops tends to involve needless Iraqi casualties and the terrorisation of neighbourhoods. The reported massacre of two dozen civilians in Haditha by US marines last year pales alongside the hundreds killed in daily shootings at checkpoints and in bombings and searches.

The occupation is plainly not bringing peace to Iraq nor is it preventing civil war, however defined. Almost all coalition forces are now hunkered down in their barracks protecting themselves. Even reconstruction, such as it is, has been subcontracted to private mercenaries. Iraq is a failed state. Its democracy is meaningless without order, and order is beyond Britain's capacity to deliver.

Now Blair has been asked by the elected ruler of Iraq to leave by the end of the year. By what conceivable right does he refuse?